The United States and its allies were moving this Wednesday towards a coordinated withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan, which Joe Biden wants to see completed on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, despite fears of a return in force of the Taliban.
“We achieved the goals we set for ourselves. And now it’s time to bring our strength home. President Biden will speak about it in a few hours in the United States. And I am here to work in close collaboration with our allies ”, launched the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken upon his arrival in Brussels before an important meeting at NATO headquarters.
In this regard, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer declared on the same day that the contingents of the countries of the Atlantic Alliance would leave Afghan territory “together” and in an “orderly” manner. Any change in the presence of the United Kingdom in Afghanistan will be “in agreement with the allies and after consultation with our partners”, for his part underlined a spokesman for the British government, contacted by AFP.
“We will begin an orderly withdrawal of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of September 11,” a US official said. Joe Biden warned that it would be “difficult” to stick to the May 1 deadline set for this withdrawal in an agreement concluded in February 2020 by his predecessor Donald Trump with the insurgents.
The Taliban threat
By postponing the deadline by more than four months, the American president has provoked the ire of the latter. “Until all foreign forces have completed their withdrawal from our country, we will not participate in any conference that is supposed to make decisions on Afghanistan,” tweeted Taliban spokesman in Qatar Mohammad Naeem, while Turkey had just announced “high level” peace talks from April 24 to May 4 in Istanbul.
“We have told the Taliban, without the slightest ambiguity, that we will respond forcefully to any attack on American soldiers while we make an orderly and safe withdrawal,” the same American official said.
Afghan rebels recently threatened to retaliate with force if the May 1 deadline was exceeded. Despite the 2020 US-Taliban agreement, violence remains at a very high level on the ground between insurgents and Afghan forces.
In a recent letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Antony Blinken warned that a US withdrawal could lead to “rapid territorial gains” from the Taliban. And American intelligence estimated, in a report published on Tuesday, that the Afghan government would “struggle to resist” in the event of the departure of the international coalition.
The United States intervened in Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks on the New York Twin Towers and the Pentagon. They ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul, accused of having hosted the jihadist group Al-Qaeda responsible for the attacks, but then got bogged down.
At the height of their presence, in 2010-2011, some 100,000 American soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan. Former President Barack Obama had reduced these numbers to 8,400 men, then his successor Donald Trump continued the withdrawal: there are only 2,500 American soldiers left in Afghanistan. In total, NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission involves 9,600 soldiers from 36 countries.
The “endless wars”
To end America’s longest war, in which more than 2,000 Americans have been killed, Donald Trump’s government struck a historic deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. It provided for the withdrawal of all American and foreign forces before May 1, on condition that the insurgents in the future prevent any terrorist group from operating from the Afghan territories they control.
The Taliban were also due to enter into unprecedented direct peace negotiations with the government in Kabul. These talks, which have stalled since their opening in September, were to be relaunched by the Istanbul conference. But an absence of the Taliban would translate into a new impasse. The American official nevertheless warned that the withdrawal would be “unconditional”.
Like Donald Trump, and in unison with American opinion increasingly weary of murderous and costly interventions halfway around the world, Joe Biden has pledged to “end America’s endless wars” . But he had raised, during the campaign for the presidential election in November, the possibility of maintaining a small contingent for the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is no longer a question. The forces assigned to counterterrorism will be redeployed outside this country and the only American military presence there after September 11 will be dedicated to the protection of the diplomats of the United States, explained the official who detailed the position of the president to the press.
The American political class was divided over the announcement of the withdrawal. Most Democrats, but also several Trumpist tenors, hailed the long-awaited repatriation of the soldiers. But others, on both sides, deplored a “premature” departure.
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